BRADENTON, Fla. — Tyreke Johnson is back.
The nation’s No. 10 overall prospect for the Class of 2018 was cleared to return from off-season shoulder surgery before Memorial Day. He returned to competition at the IMG 7-on-7 National Championships that were held this weekend at IMG Academy.
The four-star recruit said he was at about “80 or 85 percent” but enjoyed getting back on the field. He even sported a pretty good beard on the way.
Johnson — the No. 1 junior in Florida this year — has already said he feels like he will leave the state to play college football. UCLA should be seen as a major contender. He also told Scout.com’s Jacquie Franciulli he enjoyed recent trips to Notre Dame and Ohio State.
The Trinity Christian standout (Jacksonville, Fla.) also took another trip to UGA. There’s a lot of history and a good connection there. UGA offered him before he reached high school. He already knows the Bulldogs will get one of his official visits, that he will enroll early and he plans to make his commitment after his junior season.
His recent visit to UGA this month reinforced all of those feelings.
“I only spent a couple of hours there but I loved it,” Johnson said. “I had a great talk with Coach (Kirby) Smart. I got to see somebody I look up to like a brother in Reggie Wilkerson. I also got to talk with Isaac Nauta and hang out with them for a little bit and see what Georgia still has to offer.”
He found a new term to describe Smart.
“I tell you what Coach Smart looks like a mastermind with what he is doing for Georgia,” Johnson said. “Everything he is doing and building looks like it is working and turning out great.”
Nauta also shared an honest opinion of what college football will be like.
“It is hard to be a college football player at a big-time program like Georgia,” Johnson said. “He said there is a lot of testosterone and testing your manhood but you have got to get over it and adapt to your environment and find out just who you are and don’t entertain any foolishness. Look beyond the hard times to your goal because at the end of the day you are going to get yourself to the NFL with your own drive and work ethic and not your team. Your team can help you, but it is ultimately all on you. You have to make it happen.”
The visit was short, but he left with a good feeling about the program.
“It was just a couple of hours but it helped Georgia,” Johnson said. “I am not going to stay so close to home but Georgia is close and I am going to consider that school highly. Georgia is not a bad school. It has good academics.”
He’s rated as the nation’s No. 2 safety for 2018 but feels that is not where his future will be. Others have rated him as an athlete.
“Everything I am playing is at cornerback,” Johnson said. “I am not playing safety. I will never play safety. I was out here playing safety (at the IMG 7-on-7 event) because I just got back out here off my shoulder injury and my surgery. But as you saw later in the tournament I moved back to playing at cornerback.”
Others have him rated as an athlete. He feels he got typecast as a safety because that’s how he got on the showcase evaluation circuit early as a youth. His coaches wanted to get him on the field so he could get used to the game. The quicker path was at safety.
“Playing corner at such a high level at a young age won’t work there,” Johnson said. “That game at that position is just too fast for a young guy going against elite guys. They put me in at some safety so I could see how the game is played and started to learn.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder would have elite size at the cornerback spot. That’s why a lot of the recruiting sites have evaluated him as a safety. He has a bigger body type, but it is interesting to see him rated as a cornerback when the big plays on his Hudl highlight tape come with him at cornerback.
“I am not playing safety,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the things that gets me fired up. I am not a safety. I’m a corner. Just like Patrick Peterson. I am long and I am tall and people fear what they do not know. I am something with my size at cornerback that they do not know. But they will know about me as a corner and what I can do with my technique and size and length because I’m going to show them.”
— tyreke johnson (@Im_showtime_) June 9, 2016
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.